Birmingham rely on Gardner to dig for victory

Birmingham City 2 Blackburn Rovers 1

Sam Allardyce's faith in statistics seemed the only explanation for his insistence that Blackburn Rovers dominated this match and Birmingham City created very little.

Blackburn pressed early in the second half, Ben Foster saving Morten Gamst Pedersen's penalty and tipping a Steven Nzonzi header over the bar before Nzonzi scored from the resulting corner. Otherwise, Birmingham had every reason to feel that solid defending and strong counterattacking, particularly after the interval, justified a sixth consecutive home win against the Lancashire side.

Two goals from Craig Gardner turned the performance into a positive result. The midfielder had never before found the net twice in one game, but after prodding in James McFadden's volleyed pass across the Blackburn goal just before the hour he took advantage of generous defending to beat Paul Robinson again with a shot from 20 yards on 71 minutes.

Gardner had given Blackburn notice of his willingness to shoot from distance at the start of the second half, dragging the ball wide from similar range after Barry Ferguson, always looking to make a telling pass, found him in more space than Allardyce would like.

They were exposed in much the same way when, on the end of another Ferguson pass, Sebastian Larsson flicked the ball into Gardner's path and the former Aston Villa man steadied himself and took aim, placing the ball to Robinson's right.

What in Allardyce's assessment was a "speculative shot at best" capped in Alex McLeish's view "the best move of the match", although both managers agreed that Foster was crucial in shaping the outcome.

The former Manchester United goalkeeper, whom McLeish signed for an initial £4 million, leapt high to his left to push Pedersen's penalty against the bar.

"Foster made three or four outstanding saves and it was only through the combination of his brilliance and our poor finishing that we did not win the game," Allardyce said.

McLeish concurred. "The penalty save was probably as good as I have seen in that Pedersen struck it really well into a position where the goalkeeper does not often get to it," he said. "With the tactics they use Blackburn are a difficult team to play against and they certainly dominated the penalty area.

"But Ben was commanding and if it ends up between him and Joe Hart for the England jersey it is going to be a great battle."

Attendance: 21,394

Referee: Michael Oliver

Man of the match: Gardner

Match rating: 6/10

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